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Soldiers who shot 16-year-old in the back charged with “reckless and negligent act”; COs who ordered the stakeout will not be held accountable

Update: On 30 December 2015, the Central District Attorney’s Office indicted the two soldiers who fired on charges of “a reckless and negligent act using a firearm”. Their trial began on 22 September 2016 at the Ramla Magistrates Court.

On Thursday (30 December 2015) the Central District Attorney’s Office filed an indictment against the two soldiers who, on 15 January 2013, shot and killed Samir ‘Awad, 16, near the Separation Barrier in Budrus, Ramallah district. The indictment was filed in accordance with the state’s assurance to the High Court of Justice (HCJ) that the soldiers would be charged with reckless and negligent use of a firearm by the end of 2015. The arraignment will take in the Ramle Magistrates Court on 14 April 2016.

Samir ‘Awad being evacuated from the scene after being shot. Photo: 'Abd a-Nasser Murar
Samir ‘Awad being evacuated from the scene after being shot. Photo: 'Abd a-Nasser Murar

The facts of the case as described in the indictment are in keeping with the results of B’Tselem’s inquiries. The indictment states that commanders in the 71st Armored Corps Battalion ordered a stakeout near the Separation Barrier for the express purpose of “preventing sabotage to the barrier”. The stakeout unit split into two groups and waited inside the barrier system, which is made of several fences and a patrol road in between, and on the “Palestinian” side of the barrier. ‘Awad did not notice the soldiers and entered the barrier system through an existing breach in the fence. The troops then showed themselves and began pursuing ‘Awad, who had gotten caught in the barbed wire fence, but managed to break loose and escape, with the unit commander and another soldier in pursuit. The indictment describes how while in pursuit, the soldiers first fired in the air, and then fired eight bullets in succession at the fleeing boy. According to the indictment, all the shots at ‘Awad were fired in circumstances in which gunfire is prohibited under open-fire regulations, with five shots fired even without looking through the gun sights.

The disparity between the egregious conduct of the soldiers and the minor charges being brought against them beggars belief. Reckless and negligent use of a firearm is one of the lightest firearm use offenses. The maximum penalty it carries is a three-year jail term. In choosing to charge the soldiers with this count, the State Attorney’s Office is sending a clear message to security personnel in the Occupied Territories: even if you kill Palestinians who pose no danger to anyone, even if you breach regulations, we will take action to cover up the matter and make sure it ends without any real accountability.

Another aspect of the cover-up is that the focus is only on the soldiers involved in the incident on the ground. The indictment makes no mention of the command-level responsibility for ‘Awad’s death, addressing neither the orders given to the stakeout unit or the arms and gear it was given for the mission, not the very decision to mount such a stakeout. The failure to examine these questions lends support to the military’s policy of posting armed stakeouts for the express purpose of preventing sabotage to the Separation Barrier or stone-throwing near it - a policy that continues to cost lives. The last such case documented by B’Tselem resulted in the death of Lafy ‘Awad on 13 November 2015.

The similarities between the killing of 16-year-old Samir ‘Awad and the killing of Lafy ‘Awad in the very same spot are chilling. In both cases, soldiers were in a stakeout near the Separation Barrier inside Budrus, and in both cases, soldiers fired at the backs of youths who were fleeing and posing no danger to anyone.

Now, this policy of armed stakeouts, a tactic that has been proven to be dangerous and lethal, will continue taking the lives of Palestinians with the approval of the justice system.